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NFL: Arthur Smith praises ‘ascending’ Falcons LB Foyesade Oluokun

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Foyesade Oluokun was at the center of another big play for the Atlanta Falcons’ defense on Sunday. Rest assured, Arthur Smith and the coaching staff are noticing his growth.

With the Detroit Lions down four and in the red zone in the final minute of the game, Oluokun stepped in front of Tim Boyle’s pass to the goal line for the game-clinching interception. Two weeks before that, his late pass-rush around the right side forced Cam Newton to get rid of the ball — resulting in a pick-six.

The Yale-educated fourth-year linebacker had no trouble breaking down the play afterward.

“They did a five-out concept, maybe a double-move behind me. I was kind of the robber player there,” Oluokun said. “(Boyle’s) eyes brought me over there, then when he threw it, I guess he thought he had someone behind me, I just made the play on the ball when it came.”

Following the Falcons’ 20-16 win over Detroit, Oluokun ranked second in the NFL with 166 combined tackles. His body of work was enough to elicit Smith’s praise during Monday’s conference call with reporters.

“He’s an ascending player,” Smith said. “We’ve got some really good inside linebackers in this division. … Certainly when you’re playing at that position, it’s a chess match. I can think off the top of my head, the Demario Davises, the Devin Whites, Shaq Thompsons. Guys who are in there that are really good players, really instinctive. That’s what’s fun about this, and I’ve got a great appreciation for those types of players.”

Oluokun has started all 15 games for Atlanta at middle linebacker in 2021 after he gradually grew into the starter’s role in 2018 and 2019. As a first-year coach, Smith could have gone another direction at the position if he saw fit, but he’s remained pleased with Oluokun’s development.

“With a guy like Foye, as he’s continued to play, he’s really taken charge of this defense,” Smith said. “He runs the show out there. He’s embraced his role and run with it this year. It’s fun to watch his progress.”

Sunday’s win was Atlanta’s third in five weeks, making a playoff berth a much more realistic possibility. At 7-8, the Falcons are one game out of the final two NFC wild-card positions occupied by San Francisco and Philadelphia. The New Orleans Saints entered their Monday night game 7-7 and knocking on the door.

After next week’s game at the Buffalo Bills, the Falcons will face off with the Saints in the regular-season finale with plenty potentially at stake. But Smith said his philosophy with the team is to avoid diving into all the maybes and what-ifs.

“Nothing else matters but trying to win the game this weekend,” Smith said. “We just gotta try to win every game in front of us and then it will work itself out the way it’s supposed to. There’s some things you can control, there’s some things out of our control — but the main focus is Buffalo. There’s nothing else that matters.”

The Falcons placed four players on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday afternoon: wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, outside linebackers Brandon Copeland and James Vaughters and practice squad linebacker Dorian Etheridge.

–Field Level Media

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